Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a recognition of the reality that the virus and ensuing protective measures have had a profound impact on peace and security across the globe.
With worldwide lockdowns pushing youth out of schools and entry-level positions, skilled practitioners out of work, and small businesses out of pocket, not only are we projected to have 135 m. people facing starvation by the end of 2020, but we are dealing with an international legal system ill-equipped to provide urgent and united solutions.
The scope of any solution is also limited by ongoing regional conflicts and, without doubt, those impacted by regional conflicts will face compounded impacts of the pandemic.
On 1 July 2020, the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted res. 2532 – the result of Secretary General Guterres’ appeal since March for a global ceasefire. Ultimately, this resolution is a significant indicator of the link between the pandemic and global security, and the relevance of this link in the UN’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Res. 2532 demands a ‘general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda’. In unanimously adopting this long-stalled resolution, the UNSC recognised the critical role of peace and security in efforts to combat the pandemic.
– It calls for all state parties engaged in armed conflicts to ‘engage immediately in a durable humanitarian pause for at least 90 consecutive days’.
– It draws on the UNSC’s primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security while expressing grave concern about the unprecedented impact of COVID-19.
– It recognises that conditions of instability due to conflict can exacerbate the impacts of the pandemic and vice versa; and jeopardises an inclusive and coordinated response required for a long-term solution.
– And in recognising the afore-mentioned, the UNSC could not ignore the disproportionate negative socioeconomic impact on women, children, refugees, internally displaced persons and persons with disabilities.
So what does the substance of this resolution call for? While it expressly excludes military operations against Council-designated terrorist groups, the humanitarian pause on conflict aims to enable safe, unhindered and sustained humanitarian assistance by impartial humanitarian actors in line with the humanitarian principles of neutrality and independence.
This ‘humanitarian pause’ is coupled with a request to the UNSG to ensure an acceleration in the UN’s COVID-19 response, with an emphasis on those states embroiled in conflict. Additionally, the SG is to provide updates on the response, and the impact of COVID-19 on mandated peacekeeping operations.
The resolution is hailed as a strong signal of unity within the Council and a sign of hope to the world. But this is by no means the first time a global ceasefire has been called in response to a humanitarian crisis. The preventative measure alone helps the Council to generate momentum and additional political, operational and financial commitment from the international community. However, without concrete economic sanctions, stalemates in further negotiations on WHO and some degree of binding authority, UNSC calls through res. 2532 will almost inescapably be undermined.
Without binding authority, and with states questioning what role (if any) the Security Council should play in a global health crisis, res. 2532 acknowledges that the Council has (and in my personal opinion should have) a role when a global pandemic affects the maintenance of peace and security.
The UNSC draws a unique strength from the ability to mobilise the global community around global problems, from the authority to issue binding decisions, and the authority it holds from acting on behalf of UN membership.
Relevant to the times, the additional humanitarian obligation in res. 2532 shows the Council as acting in parallel with the General Assembly, deemed the actor on broader topics which include humanitarian ones.
An example of this type of action in the past can be drawn from the Council’s involvement in urging states to implement temporary recommendations issued by the WHO during the Ebola outbreak, creating a legal commitment which would have otherwise rested on unstable grounds. Unfortunately though, owing to a growing mistrust in the WHO and an attempt to urgently pass the resolution, the Council in res. 2532 did not go as far, in terms of legal commitment, for the COVID-19 pandemic as it did for the Ebola outbreak.
Given the multilateral stalemate that pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic, the difficulty in coordinated response and the late passage of res. 2532, we can expect some limited benefits of a long awaited agreement which attempts to place humanitarian needs at the forefront in a global pandemic that affects peace and security.
More work on this has been, and is still to be, done. Nonetheless, res. 2532 gave mediators in conflict areas an important impetus to halt offensive operations. The 90-day pause set an achievable temporary goal which is easier to achieve than past aspirational goals that have failed to permanently stop these types of crises.
The resolution also creates a monitoring framework, through the SG’s updates on cease-fire operations, for documenting any violators of the resolution. International scrutiny and political pressure have proven to be a major deterrent to and resumption of violence. And finally, the resolution opens access for humanitarian assistance in conflict areas that need it the most.
Like most international solutions, the success of res. 2532 depends on the grit of diplomats and what extent member states are willing to go to, in order to make global ceasefires a reality. While not impossible, it will require significant coordination between international, regional and local mediators.
Notwithstanding its delay and seemingly limited reach, res. 2532 is a step in the right direction for multilateral negotiations. Any step to improve access amid escalating and compounding humanitarian crises merits full support from the international community.